No windfall profits from God

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TORONTO -- Canada's TV regulator has warned the country's first Christian TV channel it risks losing its broadcast license if it repeats past on-air fundraising appeals to viewers that promise windfall profits from God in return for personal donations.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on Monday told the Miracle Channel that it needed to follow new rules for on-air appeals agreed to last year if it was to be considered for expansion into the Alberta free, over-the-air TV market.

The CRTC warning came as the Lethbridge, Alberta-based Miracle Channel and four other broadcasters made public bids Monday and Tuesday to operate a new TV station in Edmonton aimed at local ethnic audiences.

Gordon Klassen, vp broadcasting for the Miracle Channel, told CRTC vice-chair Michel Arpin that it would accept making its current fundraising policy a condition of license should it win the right to operate the new Edmonton TV station, with a relay transmitter to reach the Calgary TV market.

The TV evangelism channel drew fire last year from the CRTC after the regulator received viewer complaints over heavy-handed fundraising techniques employed by the Miracle Channel.

"Donations to a religious programming service cannot, to the best of (CRTC) staff's knowledge, cure nicotine addictions or cancer, spur immediate financial success or enable the quicker repayment of outstanding debts," the regulator said in a January 2006 ruling on the Miracle Channel on-air fundraising after a programming review.

The CRTC called attention to one Nov. 2, 2004, on-air appeal in which a channel host urged businesspeople facing bankruptcy to consider giving what they have left to the TV channel before it was all lost.

"You're about to lose it all anyway, so you need to sow it into the miracle of the Miracle Channel, and your whole business is going to turn around, not months from now, days from now," the host said.

The CRTC ordered the Miracle Channel to stop putting "undue responsibility" on viewers to donate, "predict divine consequences" if they didn't donate, or "exaggerate positive results" of doing so.

CRTC hearings continued Tuesday as rival bidders to operate a new free, over-the-air TV station in Edmonton appeared before the regulator.

Art Reitmayer, president and CEO of Vancouver-based ethnic TV service Channel M, told CRTC commissioners that a proposed Channel M Edmonton service would air about 35 hours of lucrative U.S. series in primetime to cross-subsidize expenditures on new, original programming aimed at 17 local ethnic markets, including German-, Ukrainian-, Chinese- and Polish-speaking audiences.

Also vying for the Edmonton station license is Omni TV, which operates a Toronto ethnic TV station, Crossroads Television, another Christian-themed cable channel, and CH Red Deer, a local TV station based in Red Deer, Alberta.

The CRTC is expected to make a decision on awarding a new Edmonton TV station license in three to six months.
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